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Musings on the Chicago DMA Conference

By Deborah Heller, Program Specialist, Member and Donor Programs, Office of Advancement, Smithsonian Institution

Thank you again for the scholarship to attend the 2017 Chicago Nonprofit Conference! It was a great chance to meet many of my peers in the industry and learn about strategies employed by other nonprofits, as well as marketplace trends.

I appreciated the clear tracks laid out in the registration booklet (I attended each track almost evenly) and the mini-schedule that came with our nametags was also helpful in navigating around the sessions. Tuesday was the most impactful day for me overall and I found myself taking the most notes in my sessions on that day as there were lots of good tips I wanted to bring back with me. Unrelated to content, the food was just delicious! Hands down the best conference food I’ve ever eaten.

Below are a few of the key take-aways I got from each session attended. From Demographics to Psychographics:

- How do you provide a cohesive brand experience to audiences with differing interests and demands? This is an interesting question for the Smithsonian as each museum has its own separate fundraising/communications/marketing team that have different priorities whereas our program, Friends of the Smithsonian, represents all of the museums but doesn’t necessarily have the information or access to what the units are doing until it’s already been executed.

Secrets to Making Monthly Giving Perform

- This session had some great tangible tips on how to increase your monthly donor numbers, such as that the months of January and August are a good time to do a donor “drive” and that the drive can be soft launched prior in your newsletter. I especially liked the idea to include existing donors with an upsell during the drive (either a swag item or a match). The emphasis of this session was mostly online as that is where success lies with these programs but acknowledged that EFT is the most reliable and consistent ways to keep a monthly donor.

Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Sustainers

- “Outsource customer service so the experience of your organization is all about the mission”. This one is interesting because I can see it both ways – having customer service in-house means the person talking to the customers really understands said mission BUT it’s also nice to have the third party who can then flag donors that really need high level service and then allow those donors to know how the org is listening to and following up with their concern.

Crystal Ball: Whether Yours is Red or Blue, We Have Something for You

- This is a topic that has really interested me personally this past year, as well as professionally though the Smithsonian’s revenue has not changed that much as a result of the current political climate. A focus of the panel was how “trust in advertising is down, and word of mouth is up” as well as a preference for values-based brands. The Smithsonian has 98% brand recognition (which is amazing!) and is remaining a trusted source of information and discussion in the current political climate which would be a great thing for us to capitalize in in our fundraising.

Generational Marketing: Shifting Messages and Media

- My favorite presentation! So interesting and the presenters were quite engaging. Learned some interesting tips about the different generations, but it was strongly emphasized that Boomers

are still the key demographic to go after, no matter how appealing marketing makes millennials sound – they are not ready to be major donors yet. Data shows that most people become donors around age 50 and since Gen Y is a smaller generation, we could expect a dip in donations as well with fewer people entering their 50s.

Why Do Donors Give? Answers from Science

- There was a lot of data in this presentation but it wasn’t that integrated between speakers so I found less tangible information to apply to our program. Unfortunately the least helpful session I attended.

Is Your ‘Donor Journey for the Donor or for You?

- If you want to reengage a donor, reach out to them on the appeal they came in on. This is something the Smithsonian has discussed and it’s always good to know you’re going in the right direction. Most orgs might think to send the donor the annual or end of year appeal, but if the donor came on board to support one of your summer initiatives they will probably be inclined to support that again.

(the last session I was signed up as a volunteer so did not attend)

Overall a really great experience and I was very glad to be able to attend through the DMA’s scholarship. Thank you for helping me continue to learn more about direct marketing! 

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